American Nuremberg

We’re responsible for what was done in our name

Is there enough evidence to indict Donald Rumsfeld for war crimes? The United Nations says yes.

We all understand President Barack Obama’s desire, expressed in an interview with George Stephanopoulos, to “look forward as opposed to looking backwards.” We’ve spent eight years with an administration that resuscitated former President Richard Nixon’s failed “imperial presidency” and loosed a monster on the planet. Now, the bodies are buried.

But we don’t have the option of letting them rest. Citizens of other nations have been hurt.

Under the administration of President George W. Bush, we broke our own and international laws right and left. Official representatives of the United States committed torture, kidnapped innocent civilians and “renditioned” them to countries where they were detained and interrogated free of the constraints of law.

Now, the United Nations says they have enough evidence to indict former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for war crimes.

Attempting to “move forward” won’t work, not while the rest of the planet’s residents are waiting to see if we’ll live up to the American ideals we’ve been claiming to export. If we don’t investigate, indict and try those responsible for torture and war crimes, someone else will.

It’s what the Allies did in post-World War II Germany, and it’s reasonable to suggest that public trials of accused war criminals is one of the things that enabled Germany to embrace democracy.

The Nuremberg Trials restored the rule of law to Germany. By presenting indictments, producing evidence and making arguments in public, the German people had an opportunity to fully understand what had happened, as well as to recognize that whatever criminal act was done in their name was their responsibility.

And, while the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission is also a worthy model, the crimes examined there all occurred within the borders of that nation. In this case, most of our war crimes—and yes, they are our war crimes, committed in our name and supposedly on our behalf—have been committed overseas. It’s not our place to offer pardons for wrongs done to others.

It would, of course, make sense to have an international court handle these cases. But it’s up to U.S. citizens to stop the expansion of the “imperial presidency” by holding accountable presidents who attempt it.

President Gerald Ford may have intended to bring our “long national nightmare” to an end by pardoning Nixon. Instead, Ford ensured that the Bush administration would feel free to trash the U.S. Constitution with impunity.

But Bush and his Nixon-era friends (Vice President Dick Cheney and Rumsfeld served in that administration) didn’t just hurt our nation. The pain was spread all over the globe, a fact that leaves us with an important question.

If we don’t hold ourselves to the rule of law, how will we ever again claim our place among nations?

We need investigations, indictments and trials, of everyone—from buck private to buck-passer—involved in violations of our own Constitution and international law, including torture. This isn’t about “political payback.” It’s not about politics at all, no matter what anyone tells you.

This is about American values: the rule of law for everyone.